Malazan Reread of the Fallen

Malazan Re-read of the Fallen: Deadhouse Gates, Chapter 4 and 5


Welcome to the Malazan Re-read of the Fallen! Every post will start off with a summary of events, followed by reaction and commentary by your hosts Bill and Amanda (with Amanda, new to the series, going first), and finally comments from readers. In this article, we’ll cover Chapter 4 and 5 of Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson (DG).

A fair warning before we get started: We’ll be discussing both novel and whole-series themes, narrative arcs that run across the entire series, and foreshadowing, so while the summary of events may be free of spoilers, the commentary and reader comments most definitely will not be. To put it another way: Major Spoilers.

Another fair warning! Grab a cup of tea before you start reading—these posts are not the shortest!

Chapter Four


Setting: Otataral Mine

Felisin, numbed by durhang and her experiences, watches as Beneth’s men futilely try to rescue miners buried in a collapse. Heboric is no longer in the mines but is working a better job thanks to her. She thinks of how she’s going to Beneth more and more, “wanting to be used.” Heboric tells her she does it to feel anything, even pain. Pella comes up and asks if she relayed his message to Heboric; she doesn’t remember him.


Felisin accompanies Beneth to a meeting with Captain Sawark. Beneth warns Sawark about the Dosii in camp and the rebellion. Sawark dismisses it. Beneth wonders if Sawark has found “the name you sought.” Sawark denies looking for anyone. Beneth offers Felisin to him for knowledge of why Baudin was arrested that morning. Beneth mentions Felisin’s age and arrival date and Sawark goes pale, then asks Beneth if Baudin works for him. Upon exiting the meeting, Beneth beats Felisin, demanding to know who she really is and why Sawark reacted to her as he did. Felisin says she was a foundling left to a Fener Monastery on Malaz Island. Beneth beats her unconscious and leaves her. She awakens in her tent with Heboric ministering to her. She tells him to tell Beneth she’s sorry and wants to go back to him. He says he covered for her so Beneth might take her back.


Setting: Estara hills coastal road/Ladro Keep

Kalam is driven to seek shelter from a sandstorm at a Malazan guardhouse. Harassed by the company there, he reveals himself as a Clawmaster to the sergeant in charge. Lostara Yil and a fellow Red Blade arrive (in disguise). A merchant’s wife begins to do a Deck “reading” but Kalam calls her out as a fraud. In anger she throws the Deck at him and it forms a pattern around him: Six cards of High House Death surrounding a single card—the Rope, Assassin of Shadow.


Lostara and her company are the last to leave the keep, after killing the soldiers inside. They continue to tail Kalam.


Setting: Pust’s temple

Exploring the temple, Icarium and Mappo find a stair leading down to an older structure and a room with paintings of beasts on the walls and a blocked doorway. They free the portal and find a corridor that has the sense of Kurald Galain (Tiste Andii warren), according to Icarium: “the feel of Dark” or an Elder Warren and one he cannot name. The corridor leads to a room filled with sorcery that has been corrupted, it has the feel of D’ivers/Soletaken and they realize they’ve found the Path of Hands, the Gate. Icarium and Mappo both recognize the carvings as familiar, and Icarium says they’re getting closer to comprehension, which worries Mappo. They decide to ask Pust. Pust tells them “nothing is as it seems.” Wonders why the two of them, despite their age, haven’t ascended. He tells a story of his staring contest with a bhok’aral and mentions that one who “does not waver from his cause” is “dull-witted.” When questioned by Mappo Pust says they know nothing of Shadowthrone’s plans and tells them to find his broom. Icarium, to Mappo’s surprise, agrees to.


Setting: Hissar/desert outside of Hissar

Duiker, Kulp, Bult, and Sormo ride out to an old oasis so Sormo can perform a rite. Duiker is uneasy over it. Sormo says the spirits he wants to contact are pre-Seven-Cities, akin to the Tellann Warren, which only makes Duiker more nervous. He mentions the T’lan Imass have “turned their backs on the Empress” since the Emperor’s assassination and when Sormo asks if he’s never wondered why that was, Duiker thinks he has a theory but it would be treason to voice it. When Sormo performs his rite, they enter the Tellann warren and are immediately attacked by Shapeshifters and Bult goes down, stung by many wasps. A huge black demon comes out of nowhere to aid them against the many D’ivers/Soletaken. Kulp knocks out Sormo with a punch and they return to the oasis. Sormo says there are only 10 crows left, then tells them they walked into a convergence by coincidence; that the Shapeshifters were using the warren assuming no Imass would be in order to get to the Path of Hands or there is some link between Tellann and shapeshifting. Kulp works on healing Bult.

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Four:

At the start of this chapter we have yet more emphasis of the bleakness of the mines—thirty-odd dead slaves and “slaves were collapsing by the score every hour below ground.” The most worrying part of this is Felisin’s expressionless face as she watches the retrieval of the bodies—is she already so hardened to death?

Is it possible for a person to die inside? Poor Felisin is fading and “numb,”, as Heboric tells her. I hate the fact she is seeking out abuse just so that she can feel something.

She sought him out when he was drunk, weaving and generous, when he offered her to his friends, to Bula and to other women.

We are also given warning of how much the drugs are affecting her: she can’t remember much of what is occurring and appears aged in a matter of weeks. I ache for her, I really do. How sad that she responds to any sort of interest by telling them to ask Beneth for her body. There is also a danger hinted that Beneth (her protector of sorts in this vile place) is losing interest in her.

There is an indication of just how disposable these slaves are:

“Saved some? What’s the point?”

I just want to make mention of Erikson’s character descriptions—they feel like the work of a GM, drawing a clear picture of what each character looks like. A good example of this is the description of Sawark:

The man was thin, devoid of fat, the muscles on his bared forearms like twisted cables under pale skin. Against the present fashion, he was bearded, the wiry black ringlets oiled and scented. The hair on his head was cut short. Watery green eyes glittered from a permanent squint above high cheekbones. His wide mouth was bracketed in deep downturned lines.

I mean, that presents a very definite picture of Sawark, right? I don’t know how prominent a character Sawark will end up being—but that lovingly detailed look at him indicates we’ll see a lot more of him. [Bill’s interjection: Or perhaps not.] I am interested to see whether this is deliberate misdirection by Erikson, like when Joss Whedon included Amber Benson’s character in the opening credits for Buffy for the first time in the episode where she died!

More mention of the Whirlwind as Beneth talks to Sawark, linking through to the previous prophecies heard. *shudders* Imagine a rebellion in these mines…

And then an intriguing snippet of conversation:

“You’ve tallied this morning’s dead? Did you find the name you sought?”

“I sought no particular name, Beneth. You think you’ve guessed something, but there’s nothing there. I’m losing patience.”

“There were four mages among the victims—”


Who was Sawark searching for? Why is Beneth pushing Sawark about it? What relevance are the dead mages? Indicates that Sawark is searching for a mage within the slaves?

Ooh, why does Sawark’s interest sharpen on Felisin once he hears her age and when she came into the mines? Does this tell him who she is?

I read the whole sequence of Beneth beating Felisin with a frown on my face. Her whole tale makes me extraordinarily uncomfortable—this strong man beating a fifteen year old girl, whom he has also raped and made dependent on drugs. Ugh, what a horrible horrible person. I SERIOUSLY want him to get his comeuppance. This is partly why I am glad that Baudin has managed to escape the clutches of the guards, because I sense that he might be able to take Beneth to task…

Every conversation between Heboric and Felisin makes me want to weep with frustration and sadness… Why can’t they just talk to each other honestly and openly? Why does Heboric not have more understanding for this poor little girl who is seeking the only way she knows how to survive?

The sandstorm that comes down on Kalam is termed an “ochre wall”—this keep the red theme going, what with the ochre handprints, the Red Blades and the blood we’ve seen copiously so far. It also makes me think of the Whirlwind to come.

I wonder if Erikson is a horse rider, or has tried it? Often you can tell the difference in writing between those authors who have and those authors who haven’t actually clambered onto a horse as part of research. I firmly believe that all authors who wish to include horses extensively as a mode of transport in their books should try horse riding—once they’ve experienced the muscular pain the following day from one short hour when you’re not used to it, I’m sure they would write more accurately. *grins*

Hmm, chance strikes again… Kalam doesn’t want to stay at Ladro Keep, yet the sandstorm forces him there. Coincidence? Erikson really doesn’t write many of them.

Just another point to make on Erikson’s writing—he is a firm believer of not introducing guns in a chapter unless you are planning to use them; here there is the velvet bag that Kalam notices. A lesser author would just use this as a point of description, whereas you know that with Erikson it will become important pages later—so, here, the velvet bag is involved with the Deck of Dragons.

*grins* It amuses me that this master assassin is able to convince this amateur in a back-water keep that he is not dangerous! I can understand Kalam either keeping or obtaining the mark of a Clawmaster to ease passage across difficult areas where the Malazans are in charge, but why does he still wear it round his neck? Any last loyalty to the Claws? Or simply a way of hiding who he actually is?

Hmm, a rare mistake by Kalam?

Flat eyes surveyed the guards and the other guests, held briefly on each of them before continuing on. Kalam saw no special attention accorded him.

And then he reveals great knowledge about the Deck—for someone who is trying to travel inconspicuously, Kalam is definitely making himself memorable! And then the falling of the Deck into the pattern around him will compound this—revealing him to be an Assassin, to anyone who has knowledge of the Deck, and showing that Hood’s attention is on him.

And here, again, coincidence that isn’t coincidence: because of Kalam revealing that he was a Clawmaster (even though untrue), all the guardsmen of the Keep are now dead. I do not grieve for them—they weren’t nice men—but it seems sad that they would die for such a spurious reason.

Is it to do with their respective species that Icarium and Mappo are able to see so well in the dark?

Before they head down into the crypt they believe that it is governed by the Queen of Dreams, but then “These paintings do not belong to the cult of the Queen…” The dark mythos, the forbidding forest, the four-legged creatures—everything points to shapeshifters instead. Slightly disconcerting that the bhok’arala do not come through the gap in the stonework…

The discussion about the Warren is incredibly interesting—it has the “feel” of Dark, the feel of Kurald Galain, and Icarium believes it to be an Elder Warren. So, here, is it true that the Tiste Andii have once been to Seven Cities? Or is there another Elder Warren with the taste of Dark that Icarium hasn’t encountered before?

Is this a mistake or have I picked something up? I believed it was only Icarium and Mappo who descended the stairs, but it then says: “Without another word the three began walking.” The three?! [Bill’s interjection: Mappo, Icarium, and the reader.]

And, seriously, what is this complete obsession with counting paces?

I think that the images on the floor—intricately carved and then defaced with gouges—are going to be key thanks to the obtuseness with which they are referenced:

“Look upon the undamaged carvings—what do they remind you of?”

Mappo had an answer to that. He scanned the array with growing certainty, but the realisation it offered held no answers, only more questions. “I see the likeness, yet there is an…unlikeness, as well. Even more irritating, I can think of no possible linkage…”

Even more irritating, I can’t think of what they might be linking to!

And how central is this to everything:

“We approach comprehension […] The Nameless Ones, with their charges and hints and visions, their cowled purposes and shrouded desires. Creatures of fraught antiquity, if the Trellish legends held any glimmer of truth. And Icarium, oh, dear friend, I can tell you nothing. My curse is silence to your every question, and the hand I offer as a brother will lead you only into deceit. In love’s name, I do this, at my own cost… and such a cost.”

This just seems so sad—and the language is simply beautiful. It’s one of the most lovely passages so far, and there have been some great ones.

“A life given for a life taken.” How many times will we hear this? And, how many times will I note it and think to myself that all the re-readers are chortling at me because I simply have no idea what it means when Pust says it. It is interesting to hear that longevity does not automatically equal ascendancy. And reference again to killing spiders! Either that Pust has a real arachnophobia or this is highly relevant! Or maybe neither of these are relevant at all, and the repetition is just being used to make me take note of those sentences and discard everything else Pust says? [Bill’s interjection: Oh no, spiders will play their part.]

*grins* And then the sense of menace and foreboding is entirely punctured by the fact that Iscarium takes it upon himself to find Iskaral Pust a broom!

Duiker gets incredibly grumpy when tired: “For the defence of decency alone, the Empress might be excused the executions,” indeed!

I don’t know if it is just me, but Duiker is the character I feel is most autobiographical for Erikson, especially when he says such things as: “It’s a poor scholar who trusts anyone’s judgement […] Even and perhaps especially his own.”

Why have the undead warriors—the T’lan Imass, turned their back on the Empress? Since this is asked so explicitly of Duiker, and since he does have theories, I’m assuming y’all do as well. *grin* I can but think that their alliance with Kellanved was to give them some sort of benefit, that they will no longer receive under the reign of the Empress. Maybe the use of Shadow will keep the Jaghut where they should be, something like that? I’m probably way off…

The only real thing I take from the encounter with the shapeshifters in the Tellann Warren is that there might be a connection between the T’lan Imass and the shapeshifters. Either that, or the T’lan Imass are really stepping aside to let the Empire go to rot and ruin. What am I missing?

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Four:

Yes, Felisin is that fallen. We find her almost completely lost, ready to, as she says, “surrender.” The devastation of the mine collapse evokes only a “faint residue of pity”; she’s falling deeper into a durhang addiction; she barely speaks to Heboric anymore; when Pella speaks to her she thinks of him only as another person she’s to be given to; she slips in and out of conversations, focus, reality; she recoils at light; she thinks of her arrival, only two weeks ago, as “long ago.” Out of all these phrases detailing this young girl’s fall, to me the saddest in this opening was “She’d grown to like calluses.” I take that as the roughness of them means she can still feel something and will take it, even if that something is her rapist’s rough-hewn skin. As Heboric says, she’s numb and her “thirst for feeling grows, until even pain will do.”

The tiny detail when they arrive for the meeting with Sawark of the “long guard” standing outside the entrance, his “pike held loosely in one hand” is a nice way of portraying their lack of preparedness for the imminent rebellion and stands in nice contrast to Beneth’s attempt to warn Sawark.

While we’re on Beneth, as horrible as he is, he’s another example of Erikson refusing to paint even these side characters in stock, simplistic turns: Felisin’s revelation to Pella that Beneth grieves for the dead. And then, of course, a few pages later, he’s beating the hell out of her, scared by Sawark’s sudden panic when he finds out how old she is and when she arrived. I’m curious in that scene what some of you think Beneth’s “new reason” is for continuing to beat her, as it explicitly says it’s no longer to gain the truth. (I have my own reading but I’m curious as to others’ thoughts.)

And then, to drive home just how far Felisin has now gone, she has to barely squeeze out through her cracked ribs and swollen mouth and lips that she wants to apologize to Beneth in hope he’ll take her back.

I have to say, I’m a little surprised at the nonchalance with which Kalam faces Lostara Yil and the other Red Blade in the keep. With what his missions are and the fact he came from a Malazan-controlled city, you’d think he’d be a bit more wary of two armored strangers showing up so shortly after he himself did in the midst of a sandstorm. He and Fiddler were certainly paranoid enough about the messenger they saw before landing; his banter with her and desire to sleep with her, not to mention a seeming lack of curiosity, seems a bit out of character to me. Anybody else? By the way, I’m pretty sure Kalam has that Claw talisman legitimately, from being a Clawmaster.

And yes, what a great moment with the Deck forming a pattern of High House Death around him (and the Holy Book). And a great line to close that section. A tension-breaker line that is quickly turned back by the cold conversation between Lostara Yil and the other Red Blade about killing everyone in the keep, with the “usual” thoroughness.

There are several things I liked in the Mappo/Icarium section:

One of course continues to be their relationship with one another, the ease with which they interact, the affection, the gentle banter. (We’ll see other pairs with not so gentle banter.)

I like the early subtle hint of the paintings of forests with “hulking, four-legged beasts, their eyes glowing.”

I like Mappo’s inability to restrain his own curiosity, despite the burden and fear he carries with regard to the whole idea of answers to mysteries.

It is intriguing that the bhok’arala do not follow them.

The annoyingly vague reference to the warren used: one with the “feel” of Kural Galain, of Dark, of an Elder Warren, though there are possibilities . . .

The understatement of Icarium’s “I do not suggest we enter this chamber.” Remember who is saying this—Icarium! You do not want to mess with something that unnerves Icarium.

Mappo’s fear of three simple words from Icarium: “We approach comprehension.”

And then we’re back to Pust, who tells them so much via so little, beginning with “Nothing is as it seems.” That’s a key line in this book (what the heck, it’s a key line for the whole damn series). And I find his line to Mappo about considering someone who doesn’t waver from his cause “dull-witted” quite resonant. Remember that Mappo is, if nothing else, a man with a cause. As is Icarium.

That little throwaway line on the T’lan Imass walking away from the Empire after Kellanved and Dancer’s assassination—we’ll hear more about this in the future.

As Duiker feels Sormo E’nath’s power, he wonders if Laseen had made a mistake in executing the Wickan warlock’s (or “kinda” executing them)—neither the first nor last time veterans will speculate on Laseen’s errors as Empress.

I too felt that line on scholars wasn’t just talking about Malazan ones.

While I like the concept of the shapeshifter attack, I admit to feeling it was a bit, I’m struggling for a word here, “cheap” is too harsh but “implausible” doesn’t quite do it. I’ll just go with “bothered” I guess. The newly-arrived demon acting as a “lodestone,” luring all the shapeshifters (and there are lots of them, I mean, lots) seems just a bit too easy a way to give us a scene of “amazing” danger and power while letting our characters survive it. I like the idea of the scene, and much of the scene itself, but that just made it feel a bit overly manipulative. Any ideas on where that demon came from and why it warned them?

We’re once again reminded of the Convergence coming at the Path of Hands, but what I found more interesting (simply because we already knew about the convergence) was Sormo’s musings on a possible link between Tellann and shapeshifting.

I like the dung beetle at the end for various reasons. One is the obvious sense of “we’re all tiny insects in a big world” idea, all of them caught up in events they can’t even fathom. But I also like the dung beetle as it’s often associated with rebirth/renewal—an idea that plays a huge role in this book.

Chapter Five


Setting: City of G’dansiban

Fiddler, Crokus, and Apsalar find G’dansiban surrounded by a rebel army. They are barred by a guard unit but Fiddler’s horse brutally bites the face of one of the guards. A group of passing Arak warriors are amused by this and Fiddler manages to get them invited to the Arak camp. The Araks tell Fiddler the city will be “cleansed,” the Malazan merchants and nobles executed. Crokus and Apsalar worry about their disguise not lasting the night and then Apsalar, channeling Dancer’s instincts, says they need to get out of there. The Araks tell them a Gral clan is coming (which would blow the disguise) so Fiddler concocts a story as to why the Gral will go after him and why they thus have to press on through the city.


In the city they find death and destruction. They save a young girl from being raped by killing the six men after her. Crokus and Apsalar ride on while Fiddler faces down a Red Blades squad that comes into the square. The come across another scene of a massacre and Crokus asks if the Malazans did the same in conquest. Apsalar (again channeling Dancer’s memories) retorts the Emperor waged war against armies, not civilians, and when Fiddler mentions the massacre at Aren Apsalar angrily says Kellanved didn’t give that order; Surly/Laseen did and that Apsalar/Dancer was sent there to see what happened and argued with Surly/Laseen. Fiddler realizes Kellanved and Dancer ascended at their “assassination” to become Shadowthrone and Cotillion and curses himself for not putting it together with the names and the appearance of a new House (Shadow) right after their deaths. He angrily asks why Dancer didn’t tell anyone, they were his friends, and Apsalar says Dancer trusted only two people (Kellanved and Dassem) and that Cotillion trusts nobody, including Shadowthrone. They ride out of the south gate and are joined by Moby, wounded as if he’s been in a fight, though Fiddler says it’s probably from mating. They look back and see Grals in pursuit.


Kalam is taken by Sha’ik’s bodyguards: Leoman, Captain of her bodyguards; and an unnamed Toblakai (7 feet tall with a wooden sword). They accept he’s carrying the Holy Book and Sha’ik herself appears and Kalam gives it to her. She offers him a place with her army/rebellion, but when he says he has another destiny she says she senses what his desire is and not only allows him to go but sends an aptorian demon (the one Mappo and Icarium saw earlier) as an escort. Kalam leaves, with the escort, thinking how strange it is that he started the rebellion against the Empire and is now going to kill Laseen to preserve the Empire so it can put down the rebellion and he wonders how many deaths he’s caused.


At dawn, just as Sha’ik opens the book she is killed by Lostara Yill’s crossbow bolt. The Red Blades attack Leoman and Toblakai, but are driven off. Tene Baralta orders Lostara to keep tailing Kalam.


Leoman and Toblakai decide to wait with Sha’ik’s body, based on the prophecy that said she would be “renewed.” Toblakai says there’s a storm coming.

Amanda’s Reaction to Chapter Five:

Is the Baruk mentioned in the extract dealing with bhok’arala the same Baruk that we already met in Darujhistan? I guess he would have had intimate knowledge of when and how Mammot used Moby as a mage familiar! [Bill’s interjection: I’d say that’s a safe assumption.]

Ha, both gross and funny, the scene where Fiddler’s horse bit the face off the guardsman. Have to say, most of these horses in the Malazan world are pretty fiery and bad-tempered…

I know that the Bridgeburners have been around, and they’re talented people—but how, exactly, does Fiddler know the intricacies of Gral and Arak life? Speaking their language, knowing their traditions—this is more than a simple soldier would know, surely? Ah, here is one hint to his past:

The camp’s layout was a familiar one to Fiddler, who had ridden with Wickan scouts over these lands during the Emperor’s campaigns.

What does this signify?

The scrawny, yipping mongrels might prove a problem, he realised, but he hoped that their suspicions would apply to all strangers, Gral included.

Why would dogs be so suspicious of Fiddler? It’s not something daft, like Fiddler being a Soletaken?

I am loving the hints of Cotillion in Apsalar, since he is one of the more intriguing characters of the series. Her sudden air of command, her ability to deceive. All of this makes her more and more ill-suited as a lover for Crokus, who is still so innocent. And what it this? Fiddler starting to feel affection for her?

Don’t fall in love with this woman, Fid, old friend, else you loosen your guard of the lad’s life, and call it an accident of fate…

I also like the burgeoning respect of the Gral horse for Fiddler—it’s such a small matter when you consider the massive events happening around it, but Erikson writes it with as much attention to detail as everything else.

Hmm, I thought that it was common knowledge that Dancer and Kellanved became Cotillion and Shadowthrone—but is this only because I’ve known since the first book. And didn’t I know because it was given to me? Don’t I recall some of you saying that I would miss the impact of this scene of reveal, thanks to knowing the fact earlier? I can quite easily imagine the jaw-dropping immensity of it, the satisfaction if you’d even half-guessed, the wonder of realising that these two of the Shadow Realm are such important Ascendants from the Malazan world. The one point that I find very interesting is Fiddler’s injured reaction to realising that Dancer did not, could not, would not confide in him. I didn’t realise that Fiddler et al were so close to Dancer—mind, even if they thought they were, I guess they were not considered to be close by Dancer!

They shrug off Moby’s injuries—but I’d like to know where he was and what he was doing! I’d like to hazard a guess that this wasn’t a mating kerfuffle…

*grins* It’s every single word, isn’t it?

At the base of three converging gorges…

Was it a mistake of Erikson to attribute so much importance to the words convergence and ascendence? As it is, every single time I see these two words I believe that Erikson has used them intentionally and wonder if it has greater import than I realised. Here he’s talking about the scenery—should he have used “converging” here?

Oho! A small snippet of the forming of the Brideburners:

As the wind and sun did to the sand and stone, Raraku shaped all who had known it. Crossing it had etched the souls of the three companies that would come to be called the Bridgeburners. We could imagine no other name. Raraku burned our pasts away, making all that came before a trail of ashes.

Although I did misread first time round “companions” rather than “companies” and wondered who these three people were! But no, companies!

Do you know? In this section I’ve decided I’m really not that keen on Kalam. I know many of you like him, but I find him arrogant beyond words (thinking that the Toblakai used a sorcerous silence to creep up on him) and too quick to throw away human lives—even though it means getting rid of Laseen, he didn’t actually need to unleash the Apocalypse en route. I think he’s conflicted by other loyalties and feels as though Seven Cities is too much like home. I do believe that Kalam is a bit of a loose cannon without the skill and advice of Quick Ben. I don’t know whether any of that is right at all, but this is my current impression of Kalam.

A dolphin? Erikson really just compared the aptorian to a dolphin? Also, has he spoken about dolphins before? I don’t know why, but this really jarred me out of the read, wondering whether dolphins actually exist in the Malazan world.

How cinematically perfect is the scene where Sha’ik is shot by the crossbow bolt? Exactly like in a film!

“There’s a storm coming…” Yes, I’d say so!

Bill’s Reaction to Chapter Five:

We’ve gotten small moments of brutality: the line of prisoners in the prologue, the Otataral mine, and here in Chapter Five Erikson broadens out and intensifies the violence and brutality, beginning with Fiddler’s horse biting half the face off the guard: sudden, vicious, bloody violence. There’s gonna be a lot of this coming up and I like this means of foreshadowing that.

The Arak are another good example of Erikson’s detailed worldbuilding, building I assume on his professional background, along with basic research. They feel like a fully formed, “real” group, not a generic “horse clan” we see in so many fantasy books. Note the small details of their camp: the tipis set so “no shade from a neighbor’s could cast insult,” the reasons given for choosing a hill rather than a valley, the physical layout, the dogs: it’s a small scene but it’s these sort of details in these kinds of small “throw-away” scenes that makes the work feel so fully formed.

I have to say, I love the scene with these fierce Arak warriors, who laughed at the horse biting the guard’s face and wanted to buy the horse and who revel in the “cleansing” of the city, I love these guys terrified (actually “flinching”) by the idea of Apsalar lifting her veil and cursing them.

Their entry into the city also doesn’t sugarcoat what is happening, as we’re immediately given that image of the “scatter of wooden toys lay broken and crushed”—I actually wished Erikson had ended there and not given us the “screams of children dying,” not out of prudishness but because that first image in some ways is even worse. The realistic portrayal continues with the abstract inevitability of rape turned concrete via the young girl they save from the six men. I like how the three of them just automatically do what they do, no discussion, no eye contact; this is just what needs to be done and they all know it (including it appears the horse)—the sole nod to a sign of “this is what is going to happen now” is Apsalar’s “long, slow breath” after the guy tells Fiddler, don’t worry “we’ll share.” You can imagine Fiddler thinking hmmm, wonder if we’ll get out of this without a fight, then the guy has to go and say that and maybe he’s still wondering a little and then he hears Apsalar’s intake and thinks “nope, here we go.”

The square gives more sensual description of violence and its aftermath: we’ve had visual, aural, and now we get the stench of it all.

As you noted Amanda, Apsalar’s connection to Dancer comes sharply into focus in this chapter. First a bit indirectly with her push to get out of the camp: “the one who possessed me. It’s his instincts that are ringing like stone on steel right now.” Then, much more directly, when she intervenes in the discussion between Fiddler and Crokus as to whether the Malazans also did these sort of atrocities, as she fiercely defends Kellanved:

Apsalar spoke with an almost personal vehemence. “The Emperor warred against armies, not civilians—“

And then, when Fiddler reminds her of Aren’s slaughter by the T’lan Imass (something he had just been reminded of by Kimloc’s captain), she is fully in “Dancer” mode:

Not by Kellanved’s command! Who ordered the T’lan Imass into Aren? I shall tell you. Surly, the commander of the Claw, the woman who took upon herself a new name . . . I should have killed her there and then . . .I was sent to Aren, to see the slaughter. To find out what happened. I . . .I argued with Surly. No one else was in the room. Just Surly and . . . and me.

She hasn’t retained simply the physical skills of Dancer, but his memories and instincts as well; that’s some legacy of possession.

And then of course we get Fiddler’s slap-to-the-forehead realization that Dancer and Kellanved are Cotillion/Rope and Shadowthrone (and for any readers confused on this, he gives them a nice concise ABC guide). Yes, it is a bit underwhelming as a “reveal,” but I like the way Erikson adds an emotional and character-driven aspect to this laid out back-story via Fiddler’s sense of betrayal at being left in the dark:

“Then why,” the sapper demanded, “didn’t Cotillion reveal himself to us? To Whiskeyjack, to Kalam? To Dujek? Dammit, Dancer knew us all—and if that bastard understood the notion of friendship at all, then those I’ve just mentioned were his friends—

This revelation (or reminder) carries so much power thanks to Fiddler’s anger and pain at Cotillion’s silence.

And while the knowledge that Cotillion doesn’t fully trust Shadowthrone is interesting, I absolutely love that “wistful smile” when Fiddler calls Dancer a fool, as if the Dancer in her knows it to be somewhat true and wishes things had been different.

On their journey, we get yet another nod to Kellanved’s purposeful brutality, as Fiddler says the Emperor would have put down this rebellion brutally but quickly, and peace would have been the result.

This chapter begins with an excerpt from a treatise on bhok’aral and now we get a real one as Moby shows up out of nowhere unexpectedly. Any speculation on those cuts?

We’ve had several references now to the Bridgeburners being shaped by Raraku, so no surprise Kalam thinks of it as he continues on. It’s a nice use of the desert’s physicality—its wind and sand, their erosive and shaping effects—to place it in a human context.

Ah Toblakai. Toblakai. So much more to come. But here: way big and way strong is all you need know. And an ironwood sword. And young.

Interesting that Sha’ik, in sensing Kalam’s “desire” (the killing of Laseen) gives him the aptorian demon. I like Apt. More to come. And Leoman, in thinking of the demon as “brainless” reveals himself not quite as perceptive/smart as he likes to think.

And I like the language when Kalam hands over the book thinking of the “sea” of blood he’s begun. Key word, that.

Speaking of language, how about the quarrel that kills Sha’ik so abruptly opening “like a deadly flower inside her brain.” What a great contrast of imagery. Writing, good writing, should find a way to startle us now and then. This does it for me.

A storm coming indeed….

Bill Capossere writes short stories and essays, plays ultimate frisbee, teaches as an adjunct English instructor at several local colleges, and writes SF/F reviews for

Amanda Rutter contributes reviews and a regular World Wide Wednesday post to, as well as reviews for her own site (covering more genres than just speculative), Vector Reviews and Hub magazine.


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